Tuesday, July 12, 2011

When You Hit Bottom, You Bounce

So I'm still struggling to find a job since my last one was so rudely taken from me.  It's not so much that I'm out there everyday getting rejected.  I've actually only made it to one place and they wanted to hire me but didn't have a position available.  The struggle is with myself, and until this morning (more like afternoon) when I was finally pulling myself together for the day, I realized what my big issue was.

I knew I'd been making excuses like I usually do.  I want to say that I've brought this up before but in scanning through my posts, nothing rings a bell.  The first big insight my practice brought me was how easy it is for me to fall for my own excuses, that I just accept them sometimes without even realizing I'm making them up.  I see them as reality and that that's just the way it is.

The problem is, until I find the root of these excuses, it doesn't really do me much good.  Sure I know that I shouldn't be falling for them, but I still do.

What I realized today is that I'm still upset over the loss of my job, even more so than I'd realized.  On a deeper level, the owners of that restaurant kicked me out of my home; not the one where I went to every night and slept, but the one where I spent my days.  My coworkers were in a sense a new family and I'd been cut off from them.  On the surface I'd just seen it as a job and another one would come along to take it's place.  I hadn't dealt with this aspect that lurked so far below.

So I was still angry and holding on to something I know intellectually was passing and impermanent.  It wasn't until today that that understanding went a bit deeper into realizing the impermanence.

What's causing me trouble now is that deep down, I'm scared of that happening again.  I mean, I really hate looking for a job.  I've stayed at places that were really bad for me longer than I should have because it seemed better than looking for a new place.  But this fear comes from an investment in a possible future that I know may not come true.  So instead I hold on to the dream rather than march in to a place and apply.

So many of us do this in so many different situations.  We let our attachment to how we want things (or think they should be) to turn out cripple us from taking the chance.  Looking for jobs, pursuing a romance, making a purchase or any other choice for that matter.

Is there some magic spell we can use to make this anxiety go away, some short cut around the suffering?  No, we just have to accept that this is what life is.  Our practice may help in that if we settle our minds enough, that iron grip on the dream may soften, but just because you have a light grip doesn't make that desire any less sticky.

A little after Christmas I was in a funk, didn't feel myself, slept too late, wasn't motivated to do anything.  It took me a while to realize that I was a little depressed.  It'd been a long time since I'd been to that place so it wasn't easily recognizable.  Once I'd identified it, it lost a lot of it's power, I'd slapped some boundaries on it and defined its previously ambiguous powers.

For a long time I'd been doing really well, riding the wheel to the top.  But once I hit bottom back then, I was able to recognize that it was a wheel and that I wouldn't be there forever.  It had been a nice ride up and the top felt great, but then I was at the bottom and knowing I'd be going back up eventually was kind of what turned it around.

So today I realized the same thing and it had the same effect.  I'm really bummed about not having a job and it should be enough motivation to go out and get one, but something has been in the way.  Now that I've identified it, given it some definition, I know its power's not infinite.  I'm still moving forward and looking up, not down.

It was a long fall down, and I know it's cliche, but before you can bounce back up, you have to hit the bottom.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

I Survived Ango and All You Get Is This Crummy Post

45 calender days is a really long time. We had Fridays off, but most days started at 5:15 am with an officer's meeting and didn't end until 9 pm with chanting the Three Refuges. Half day sits changed the schedule for Saturday and the last five days finished it all off with a sesshin, but every other day was spent in zazen, kinhin, soji, oryoki, services, dharma talks, study, and class. Just about a tenth of the year, and it was interesting.

A lot happened over those six weeks that didn't really sink in until it was almost over and I didn't get a chance to write about hardly any of it.

I received the precepts the second weekend, which was a huge event on its own but it was quickly lost in the blur of the following weeks. We had two priests ordained by my teacher come visit for a while back to back, the second of whose ordination I attended late last year. I sat down with him for an hour and we chatted around the theme of ceremony which I'll get to writing about later. We also hosted Brad Warner for a Dharma Punx organized retreat which was fun to attend and cook for. I also got to go out for breakfast with him with two other people one day, so that was cool. Rereading Hardcore Zen after so long was interesting. It's a chicken-or-egg type deal but the book really matches my current attitudes and I read it at an influential time in developing my practice. I had thought all these views were my own but now I'm not so sure. It doesn't matter, they are mine and I don't have them because someone said that I should.

We had two other guests that same weekend so the buildup was something else. The second is the founder of the Dallas Meditation Center and practices in Thich Nhat Hanh's Order of Interbeing. His style was quite different but I intend to get to know him better since his center is down the street from where my parents live in Dallas. (He was out of town when I was there for Father's Day)

As tenzo, my first practice period (and only third sesshin) had its own special challenges. Three meals were served nearly every day; oryoki breakfast and lunch with an informal dinner. During the week we ranged 6 to 10 participants with around 20 for Saturday breakfast.

I started out really organized, planning a week's worth of meals at a time with my own spreadsheet displaying which day, meal, and bowl's food, condiments, number of diners, and who would be preparing/helping prepare the meal. I made two shopping trips a week, one on our off day, Friday. Two dinners a week I was able to let someone else plan and prepare to give me a break.

All this time, I'd been re-reading sections of the Tenzo Kyokun for inspiration and insight and came across something funny. One part I'd always read without too much care is the section where Dogen outlines the day's activities for the tenzo. With my professional training and guidance from within the sangha it never really matched up with Dogen's instruction. As I settled into how I thought things should be done, I realized I was actually doing it the way Dogen suggests. Setting up and soaking the rice for breakfast at night, preparing lunch while breakfast cooks... it was nice.

Before my term in charge, meals were prepared a day in advance and the recipes were overly complicated. With my menu and experience I didn't have to do this. It made storage much easier and I had a greater degree of flexibility if something unexpected came up. Because of this the third week was almost entirely improvised off leftovers.

There were a couple points where the whole thing was getting old and I was ready for it all to be over with, but that's all part of practice. It's not all that different from sitting; once you're in it you have to see it though.

One thing that I really enjoyed about the practice period was it's intermediate nature between daily life and sesshin. Daily life (for me, especially while unemployed) is very dynamic with almost no structure. Sesshin is completely regimented with nearly every moment planned out. During Ango, each piece of the day was optional and we could come and go as our outside life needed. This allowed a daily blending of “lay” and “monastic” life whereas the two extremes usually exist pretty independently. Sesshin is also really short so as soon as you're really settled it's over. But as I said 6 weeks is a long time.

All of this makes for a powerful reminder that practice is all the time. The practice period really helps establish practice as a daily habit and six weeks provides a good amount of momentum.

I really enjoyed participating and intend to go into some more detail about some aspects of it soon.